Opinion | Get a crappy first car

By Jessica Snyder, Senior Staff Columnist

For almost five years now I’ve been driving a 2006 Honda Civic. It’s a brilliant baby blue, glittering with peeling paint on the hubcaps and roof — which is apparently a common problem in older Honda models. 

I don’t have a backup camera and I think the most up-to-date feature in it is cruise control. It has a Bluetooth radio adapter and cloth seats. The air conditioning has since fizzled out, but I don’t think it’s beyond fixing, because sometimes on long drives across the state it will work for a minute or two. 

However, if someone offered me a brand new car right now, I probably wouldn’t take it. My grandma gave me this car in high school because it was too low to the ground. I grew up in the back seats of this car when my grandma would drive my brother and me to practices and McDonald’s, and now I’m sitting in the driver’s seat. 

Not everyone is going to have this innate sense of sentimental value in their new vehicle when they first buy a car. I would still keep my Honda even if it weren’t for the nostalgia, though, simply because of its hidden value. It still has less than 100,000 miles on it — my grandma didn’t drive it much. Used cars — even if they don’t have the latest technology and aren’t visually appealing — are the best first cars on the market. They save you money and teach you how to drive better, all while adding an element of sustainability to owning a car. 

When you’re first learning how to drive, the truth of the matter is that you’re going to hit some things. These little bumps into sidewalks or poles usually leave more damage to your car than the objects themselves. 

If you have a new car, you might feel more inclined to get these little dents fixed, given that the rest of your car is almost pristine. If you have an older car like me, you probably won’t sweat it — I have plenty of little marks on my bumper, but it matches the rest of the paint job. Eventually, you’ll become more spatially aware in your car and won’t bump into as many curbs. If you choose to buy a used car and decide not to repair these little dents, you won’t have to pay for them.

Depending on what kind of used car you get, you’ll most likely save more money all around. Used cars are nearly $10,000 cheaper than new ones, typically because they have more miles and slightly less technology. 

Both options are feasible, but if you have the money up front for a used car, you won’t have to worry about making car payments months from now. The only thing you would have to worry about from then on is car insurance — which is still less than a new car thanks to its age and the fact that it doesn’t need collision insurance because its value has declined, meaning that you wouldn’t lose too much money in an accident. 

Having a used car has made me a better problem solver. In the era of iPhones without aux ports, I had to find a way to get my music to play in my car without a built-in Bluetooth sound system. The lifesaver for nearly all used cars is some form of Bluetooth radio adapter. Thankfully, these are pretty often user-friendly. While I’m definitely not saying that we should be living in the past, learning and sustaining the ability to use a radio helps in situations where you never knew you needed it. 

My Honda Civic doesn’t have a backup camera, but luckily it’s a relatively small car. I feel as though backup cameras have become similar to what automatic transmissions once were — some people just can’t drive without them. Having a used car without a backup camera will make you a better driver, whether you like it or not. This is especially true in Pittsburgh, where you’re going to have to learn how to parallel park — and fast — without it. 

No one has broken into my car thus far because it doesn’t look like I have too much money based off of its exterior. With peeling paint, a few dings and a helplessly messy interior, I’m sure a thief would much rather risk the jail time of breaking into a car that actually looks like it’s worth some money. 

Of course, buying a used car is almost always the most sustainable option because you’re getting a vehicle that wasn’t created brand new for you. Even with the rise in popularity of electric cars, I would argue that my 2006 Honda Civic still holds up with its incredible gas mileage. One thing’s for certain — those who buy used cars won’t be contributing to the lithium and chip shortage any time soon.

When it comes time to upgrade, you might actually be more ready than most. If you buy your first used car yourself, you’re already delegating a sense of responsibility and ownership to yourself. Going to buy that new car will surely be bittersweet, but when that time comes, you’ll probably be financially ready.

Even though my car isn’t bright, brand new or even relatively clean, I love it more than I would if it were all of those things. Ultimately, it’s my car, and I’ve learned its little quirks over our five years together. It might lack a lot of modern technology, but I’m confident it has forced me to become a better person.

Jessica Snyder primarily writes about the little things in life. Write to her at [email protected].